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Oh Shows His Talent

Only 21, he wins the Nationwide Tour event at Empire Lakes as he makes the case he's ready to be a professional.

September 29, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

When James Oh turned professional two years ago after his freshman year at Nevada Las Vegas, many questioned whether he was ready.

Sunday, he answered his critics.

Oh, 21, from Lakewood, made a six-foot birdie putt on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff against Jess Daley and won the Nationwide Tour Mark Christopher Charity Classic at Empire Lakes Golf Course in Rancho Cucamonga.

It was the first tour victory for Oh, who got into the tournament by winning a three-hole playoff in a Monday qualifier and became the youngest winner in the tour's history. He shot even-par 71 in the final round and finished regulation tied with Daley at 16-under.

In the playoff, both players birdied the par-five 18th and made pars on the par-three ninth before returning to the 18th. Oh hit just over the green with his second shot, then watched as Daley hit his shot left into a lake. Oh got up and down for the victory.

Oh pocketed $81,000 for the victory, but more importantly he earned a full exemption for the remaining five Nationwide Tour events and all of next year if he does not qualify for the PGA Tour.

"That's awesome," Oh said. "That's a huge load off."

A successful amateur, Oh won the 1998 U.S. Junior championship and was a quarterfinalist at the 1999 U.S. Amateur. He had four top-10 finishes as a freshman at UNLV and decided to turn pro.

"I left college because I realized it wasn't the place for me to grow," Oh said. "Yeah, people questioned the decision. Usually when you turn pro, you have some exemptions or sponsors, but I had none of that."

His critics appeared to have a case when Oh struggled early as a professional.

He tried PGA Tour qualifying school twice and failed. He played the Asian Tour and had only two top-10 finishes in nearly two years. Then, this summer, something clicked. He played the Hooters West Tour, winning three times and finishing second once in five tournaments.

He has qualified on Mondays for three Nationwide Tour events in the last month and made the cut in all three.

"I struggled," Oh said. "I fell apart after I turned pro. Rebuilding was rough, but I'm glad I did it, because it brought me to where I am now."

He moves to 43rd on the season money list with $85,698 and probably will earn an exemption from the first stage of qualifying school based on his position on the season money list. He also has a chance to go directly to the Q-school finals. The top 70 on the season-ending money list automatically go to the second stage; the top 35 go to the finals.

Oh had a one-shot lead over Daley entering the final round, but went to the 72nd hole one shot behind. Needing a birdie on the par-five, he reached the green in two and two-putted for birdie.

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